In the months before lockdown, reusable coffee cups had become a mainstay of Sydney's café scene. Sydneysiders did their bit by shooting scandalised glances at café-goers who dared not bring their own cups, and cafés, in a less moralising way, offered discounts for those who did. Unfortunately, concerns about hygiene and contact have put a pin in the use of reusable coffee cups in many cafés for the moment – but a group of cafés is pushing to bring them back.
Responsible Cafés, a network of Australian cafés which was instrumental in advocating for the adoption of reusable cups in the first place, is proposing a new, contactless method of serving coffee for our times – so that reusable cups can find their way back into Australian cafés and minimise overall waste in landfill.
Responsible Cafés' proposed method is as follows. First, a customer places their reusable coffee cup on a tray. Then, the café's barista makes coffee as normal in a 'drink-in' ceramic cup, and proceeds to transfer the coffee from the ceramic cup to the reusable cup on the tray, without needing to touch it. The barista then hands the cup back to the customer via the tray. By eliminating the need for the cafés' machine attachments or milk jugs to touch the customer's reusable cup, this method theoretically ensures that only the customer comes into contact with their own cup. Depending on the fit-out of a café, an alternative could be for customers to place their cups on a counter and for baristas to fill them up there.
Manly's Ruby Lane is one such café which has already adopted this method. Says founder Phil Dawson, "While it pained us to do so, we switched to compostable disposables in the early stages of the lockdown. But I had a lightbulb moment when I watched the barista pour the shot in from a ‘dosing cup’ and topping it up with milk without touching the cup, I thought ‘why don’t we do this for everyone?’ - and we have." Other cafés who have pledged to be involved are Rosebery Street Café, Botannix Studio Café, The Drop Espresso and Bondi's Shop and Wine Bar.
If adopted by Australian cafés and practised with safety in mind, contactless coffee could allow the reintroduction of reusable coffee cups into cafés, while preserving high standards of hygiene.
Have you heard? NSW is easing restrictions for cafés and restaurants from Friday.